April is Autism Awareness Month – Learn More about Autism Spectrum Disorders

file000278419468Approximately 1.5% of children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – that’s 1 in every 68 kids. You can have ASD regardless of your race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status and boys are almost five times more likely to have ASD than girls. April 2, 2015 is the eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day, and April is Autism Awareness Month, so Meritage Medical Network would like to help raise awareness and spread the word about this event by providing more information and suggesting a few ways that you can get involved.

What is Autism?

Autism is known as a “spectrum disorder” because it affects each individual in different ways and in varying degrees of severity. On the most basic level, autism is a developmental disability characterized by difficulty with social interaction, impaired verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Despite the rampant media coverage about vaccines causing autism, there are absolutely no scientific studies that have found a link between vaccines and autism. In fact, there is no known cause of autism; however, the scientific evidence suggests that genetic factors primarily contribute to a child’s risk for having autism.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Autism?

Because each person with autism can present with different symptoms, varying in severity, it is difficult to create a comprehensive list of signs that parents, loved ones, and friends can look for to help a child address autism at the earliest stage of development. However, symptoms generally fall into three main categories:

  • Social interactions and relationships – individuals with autism may have difficulty making or maintaining eye contact, have trouble understanding someone else’s feelings, or lack interest in pursuing peer relationships.
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication – children with autism may not speak at all or may not seem like they are listening even if their hearing is fine, they may repeat certain phrases, they may exhibit repetitive mannerisms such as hand-flapping, or they may be delayed in their development of language skills.
  • Limited interest in activities or play – a child with autism may only focus on parts of a toy rather than playing with the whole thing, he or she may be fascinated by specific topics, and he or she may not participate in much (or any) spontaneous or make-believe play.

What Can You Do?

There are many different ways that you can help raise awareness and support the autism community – below are just a few simple ideas!

  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of autism: catching ASD early in a child’s development can have a significant effect on the long-term outcomes for someone with autism. Parents and other caregivers can view development milestone checklists at cdc.gov/milestones to see how a child is doing relative to other children of the same age.
  • Get to know how best to interact with individuals who have autism. There are many resources online to help you learn more about how to communicate with those who have autism. Of course every individual with autism is different, but some key points for effective communication include not touching someone without warning, not expecting eye contact, not being offended by an honest and forthright communication style, and being patient and willing to answer questions.
  • Find local autism-themed events and organizations at which you can volunteer.
  • Donate to reputable autism programs in research, awareness, or community outreach.

With ill-informed stereotypes and even outright misinformation in the media, it’s important to understand what autism is, how prevalent this condition is, and what we can do to help support the unique, talented, and exceptional members of the autistic community.

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